Thoughts on the New Grading and Honors Policies at Harvard and Stanford:
As Eugene notes, the Harvard Law faculty voted to abolish its traditional grading system and move to a High/Pass/LowPass system. On a similar note, Stanford Law School, which recently enacted the same reform, decided to abolish Order of the Coif and "with distinction" diplomas and replace them with many course book awards, some retroactive.

  I assume the purpose of Harvard and Stanford making these decisions is to try to get some of the Yale halo effect. Yale is the #1 school among top law school applicants, top judges, and law school hiring committees. Yale's lack of traditional grading information works to its advantage. Applicants like it, of course: No gunner law student wants to be told he is pretty much average, which is what grades tend to tell people in most cases. And the lack of information about where Yale students fit in the class often works to their advantage in the job market, as it's harder to compare Yalies to students at other schools. Employers figure, "Well, I have no idea how smart this guy is, but then, he is at Yale...." Perhaps adopting Yale's unusual grading system will attract more top students to Harvard and Stanford, and it may have a psychological impact on judges hiring clerks and committees hiring assistant professors. Or maybe it will backfire. Time will tell.

  I can certainly see an advantage for the faculties at Harvard and Stanford. Fewer grading distinctions means much less time grading. Ranking a set of 100 exams into 7 or 8 different categories takes an incredible amount of time, as you need to make sure that every exam in each category isn't better than an exam in a higher category or worse than one below. But ranking is very easy if there are only three categories: Unless an exam jumps out as outstanding or terrible, it's a "pass" and you don't need to spend time on it.

  As a Harvard Law alumnus, on the other hand, I admit I'm a bit saddened by the switch. One of the things I respected most about Harvard Law as a student is that it was unapologetic about its reliance on grades. When you got your grades back, you knew pretty much exactly where you stood in a very competitive class. I suppose I think something is lost in giving students and their future employers less feedback. But then I'm pretty much a traditionalist about such things: I confess to believing in the mostly unfashionable notion of meritocracy, so I tend to think the more grades, the better.

  Finally, I can't help but think that Felix Frankfurter must be turning over in his grave. His beloved Harvard Law School abolishing letter grades? FF would have lost it over that one; I think he would have decided to only hire clerks from the University of Chicago.